Walking into Steinbrenner Field today was like coming home again. It’s my fourth year of this blog and my fourth year of attending Spring Training entirely, and as we meandered our way to our seats, my mom and I mentally checked off things that remind us of “Spring” — certain vendors at their usual posts, security staff we know, the “beer-beer-beer” guy, the season ticket holders we always end up near, and the thousands of smiles and glances of anticipation as far as the eye can see in either direction.
It’s finally Spring here in Tampa.
And what a way to kick off the season! After a rather quick 1st inning for both the Yankees and the visiting Tigers (on a split squad day, and their opener was yesterday), the Yankees hit a bit of a snag in the 2nd inning as starting pitcher Luis Severino lost whatever momentum he had at one point. After a lead-off strikeout, the Tigers suddenly roared to life (had to, forgive the pun), Severino quickly loaded the bases with a single, a hit-by-pitch (a nasty fastball off his wrist actually), and a walk before walking in the Tigers’ first run. And then with the bases loaded, the Tigers’ catcher smacked a very big grand slam to push the Tigers solidly into the lead. Nick Rumbelow came on in relief of Severino and shut things down for the 2nd inning.
However, when he came back in the 3rd, his lead-off batter tripled (just a few feet shy of a home run) and then scored on a single. After another hit allowed, Rumbelow was replaced by invitee Tyler Cloyd. Cloyd closed out the 3rd, and despite a solo home run allowed, threw a decent 4th inning and an overall outing.
It was at this point in the game that everything shifted. The Tigers changed out their starter, who was undeniably good and kept the Yankees hitless and scoreless (with a Tigers 7-0 lead at this point). With 1 out, Starlin Castro got his first hit as a Yankee (and of the game) and then moved to 3rd on McCann’s ground-rule double. Teixeira’s walk loaded the bases and pinch runners were sent in for the veteran Yankees on base in hopes that quicker feet might turn that winking zero into actual numbers. It did. Aaron Hicks’ first hit as a Yankee scored Castro moving the pinch-runners (Romine and Parmelee) forward, but a missed sign caused Hicks to over shoot 1st and get tagged out. Dustin Ackley’s ground-rule double scored both Romine and Parmelee. And just like that, the Yankees were on the board.
In the 5th, minor leaguers Gamel and Solano were in scoring position with a walk and a double, allowing them to score on Gregorius’ ground out and Castro’s double. And in the 6th, invitee Dustin Fowler led-off with a single and ended up on 3rd after 2 wild pitches and 2 outs before scoring on Lane Adams’ quick double. When invitee Romero singled, Adams raced into home to tie up the game. And within 3 innings, the Yankees came back from a 7-0 hole to a 7-7 tie.
And for some reason, a whole bunch of people started to exit the stadium. Don’t they know how important it is to stay until the end? You just never know what’s going to happen. I’ll repeat the Yogi-ism in honor of the man they play for this year: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” And believe this was going to be one of those games.
With 1 out in the 7th, Romine doubled, moved to 3rd on Parmelee’s single, and then scored on Fowler’s ground out to push the Yankees into the lead. Which they just had to hold onto going into the 9th inning. Nick Goody came on to close out the game, but got himself into a bit of a sticky situation — a lead-off ground-rule double that scored on a 2-run home run to push the Tigers back into the lead. After a single, the next batter ground into a double play, the ball came back to Goody who doubled the runner off 1st before getting out of the inning.
But it ain’t over yet. 20-year old Jorge Mateo (who already made a bit of a defensive splash at shortstop, though not the video clip to show you) hit a triple. Into left field. Now, that is significant for a single thing — he is scary fast. People who hit balls to left field usually wind up with a nice double or a single if they’re really slow. No, Mateo flew around the bases as if he had wings on his cleats and then scored on Romine’s deflected single (without a slide, mind you) to tie up the game. And it certainly wasn’t over. With 2 outs on the board and a pinch-runner in for the slower Romine at 1st, Fowler popped the ball out to left field where the left fielder promptly dropped it. Yes, it was an error, and Wade (the pinch-runner) comes flying around the bases to score the walk-off run.
Final score: 10-9, Yankees over Tigers.
And I can’t forget the good moments in defense (despite what I will say in the next paragraph). First, the absolute best pitcher of the rotation today was easily Mark Montgomery in the 5th inning. With the exception of Severino’s 1st inning, Montgomery was the only reliever to go 3-up, 3-down and shut down any hopes of a Tigers’ comeback (at least at that point). Another really impressive defensive move was Chris Parmelee’s unassisted double play in the 7th. And I must cap off this section by addressing the amazingness that is Starlin Castro, who basically cemented himself in the heart of Yankee fans with his offense and his sharp skills at 2nd base today.
Finally, the totals for today’s game don’t really show a lot for either teams’ pitching staff and a few issues with defense — a total of 25 hits, 19 runs, and 6 walks (though 15 total strikeouts). Be glad it’s still early enough to work out the kinks and figure out who’s still able to throw and defend for a regular season game. Let me say, it was certainly more than just a little rusty and sloppy out there for far too many plays.
Reviving the Spring Training tradition: my one to watch today is Jorge Mateo. Look, Mateo is a young infielder who is basically one of the fastest guys in baseball right now. He can play short stop, triple to left field, and score like Jackie Robinson (except in the 1955 World Series, when Yogi clearly tagged him out). He is certainly on my radar this Spring, and I know I am not the only one who feels that way.
The future is bright, the season has begun, so start dreaming those October baseball dreams now!